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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 22/01/2013

Many years ago I attended a  course run by a Scottish personal development guru. It really wasn't my cup of tea and my abiding memory is that I left with an excruciating headache. One other thing stuck out: this man told us that if we wanted to achieve anything in life we needed to set goals. Indeed he claimed there was scientific evidence to support this claim.  He recounted that in the 1950s academics at Yale university in the USA surveyed graduating students and  asked them if they had written down any goals for themselves. Twenty years later the graduates were tracked down and they found that those who had set goals were much more successful in life than those who hadn’t. Indeed when this survey is quoted some say that while the goal setters were only 3% of the sample twenty years later they had amassed more wealth or achieved more than the other non-goal oriented 97%.

At the time I was sceptical and over the years I was struck by how often this claim was contradicted in real life. Listen to the testimonies of many successful people and they often say that they never planned anything. In other words, their success in life was often down to taking up opportunities which came their way, and didn't happen as a result of goals they had set themselves. My own life echoes this approach and this is probably why I've always been so resistant to and sceptical of the huge claims made for goal setting.

So it was with great delight that I read recently that while the Yale Study has been quoted a lot by gurus such as Anthony Robbins and ZIg Zigler no one can track it down and those involved in the university in 1953 can't remember ever having been consulted.  Indeed one research associate who tried to find it has branded it an urban myth.

I know from my work with personality type over many years that some types of people like setting goals for themselves. Good on them. Setting goals can help people focus and attain pre-ordained desire. But sometimes being too fixed on goals can make people blind to other, potentially better, opportunities. What's more other types like my own, positive enjoy meandering through life responding to opportunities and possibilities which present themselves and this can be a source of their success.  


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